Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.


Friday, March 10, 2006

A broad reflection on IR theory so far

Looking over the posts I've made over the semester, I have a history of saying "This theory seems to explain state actions pretty well" about multiple, often conflicting theories. I'm not sure if this is caused by a really loose understanding of state actions in general, or if each theory just has a grain of truth that allows elements of it to be seen in many actions. For example: nearly every theory in the Sterling-Folker book illustrates itself by calling up the intervention in Kosovo. The first few that jump to mind are critical theory, postmodernism, and public goods liberalism, which share certain things in common but are by no means similar theories. However, since our policymaking process in America is so diverse anyway, there's more than enough room for multiple theories to describe it at different stages and when made by different players.

Since I haven't really committed to a specific theory to explain the whole of state actions, I thought I might at least try to figure out where I stand... surprise, surprise, I think I'm still a realist. Power still strikes me as the most important state interest because it's integral to so many others.

Power is the best deterrent to being attacked; as such, it is the best insurance of national security. As I was recently reading in the textbook for another class, "it is natural for influence to accrue to great power status, even without coercion" (American Defense Policy 2005: 71); the article goes on to explain that the greater power a state wields, the more other states want to be associated with it through business deals, and therefore greater power in the international system translates to greater economic stability as well. It is evident that when states amass power, other state goals are fulfilled more easily.

In the last debate, the after-debate discussion was particularly interesting in its treatment of liberalism as a means to a realist end. States might cooperate in order to gain greater power, which would explain the existence of the United Nations and the participation of powerful countries, without really intended to give up their own sovereignty, which would explain why the United Nations has been ineffective in a variety of ways.

These are just some scattered thoughts on my personal IR perspective... I'm sure it will evolve more as we're exposed to more readings, but I think I'm just a realist at heart.


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